Staunton, May 28 – Following its victory at the UN arbitration court that ruled Russia must release the 28 Ukrainian sailors it illegally seized and still holds, the Ukrainian government has announced that it will seek to gain worldwide recognition of the fact that the Kerch Strait is in fact an international waterway and not the internal waters of Russia as Moscow insists.
Yelena Zerkal, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, said that such a step would eliminate the legal uncertainties which arose after Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 and that Kyiv would take it even though Russian officials have already indicated that they will oppose any change (ru.krymr.com/a/mejdunarodnyi-status-kerchenskogo-proliva-rossiya-ukraina/29968697.html).
Katerina Zelenko, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian foreign minister, says that “Ukraine has always insisted [on such a status] while Russia in denying it has sometimes acted as if the straits were an international waterway and sometimes not. This creates confusion, and Ukraine wants to do what it can to end it.
She added that in her view, “international status for the Kerch Straits does not contract the 2003 agreement between Russia and Ukraine on cooperation in the use of the Sea of Azov. This agreement has its own function,” but it supplements rather than contradicts the UN Law of the Sea Convention.
According to that agreement, Zelenko continues, “the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait are the internal waters of the two state,” using the definitions established by the Law of the Sea. But subsequent events have changed the conditions that obtained at that time as have Russian declarations and actions.
Not all Ukrainians agree with this proposal. Bogdan Yeremenko, head of the Foreign Affairs Maidan Foundation, says he does not support making this proposal. “The Kerch Strait is the territorial waters of Ukraine. If we see to return Crimea to within Ukrainian control, why should we change that status?”
He adds that there is no possibility of discussing the status of the sea and the straits because that would require raising the issue of the status of Crimea, something Moscow has consistently refused to do. Issuing a call for a change when there is little or no possibility for forward movement does not help the Ukrainian cause, Yeremenko suggests.